It's an all-Swiss final at the Monte-Carlo Rolex tournament on Sunday, with Stan Wawrinka going up against Roger Federer. How convenient for the citizens of the Principality of Monaco that they share the same national colors of red and white with the Swiss! Fans can don face paint for either player and not draw the ire of Prince Albert II.
In a twist, it's Stan who enters the match as the top Swiss men's tennis player in the world, not Fed. Wawrinka is ranked third in the world, behind Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and Fed is fourth. Roger could elbow his Davis Cup teammate aside with a win tomorrow.
Beside that bit of ranking friction, there are other story lines that recommend this match. Fed has never won Monte-Carlo. It, and Shanghai, are the only ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies that have eluded the Greatest of All Time. He has come close. He was runner-up to Rafa, King of Clay, three years running, from 2006 to 2008.
While Federer has 22 Masters 1000 trophies to dust, Wawrinka has none. He, too, has come close. This is third Masters 1000 final (there was Rome in 2008 and Madrid last year). Though he's a daunting 1-13 against Federer, Wawrinka has been having the year of his career. He won his first Slam, the Australian Open, in January. To get it, he had to shake off another losing streak by beating world number one Rafael Nadal for the first time in 12 matches. A month earlier, Wawrinka snared the title in Chennai for a second time. He is 19-3 since the start of the season. As my husband often says as he stares at his cards at the blackjack tables, "he's due."
And if all of that isn't compelling, Serena Williams' coach, Patrick Moratoglou, likes the Monte-Carlo final because it's a one-fingered salute to all those teaching pros who are coaching their kids to hit two-handed backhands.
It was Wawrinka's backhand that demolished David Ferrer, 6-1, 7-6 (3) in their semifinal. Stan avoided Ferrer's fierce forehand as much as possible, wearing him down through backhand-to-backhand duels. He raced out to a 5-1 lead in the first set in under 30 minutes. He reined in his unforced errors for the second set tiebreak quickly enough to get a 4-0 advantage early on Ferrer.
"It was important to move well, be aggressive. That was my plan," said Stan. At one point in the match, after handing his towel to a ball kid, Wawrinka crouched down on his haunches, sprang up, and did a series of football-player-running-through-the-tires steps while waiting for Ferrer to serve. I thought, uh oh, is he cramping? No. He was just reminding himself to move his feet.
Roger Federer reached the final by upsetting defending champ and wounded world number 2 Novak Djokovic, 7-5, 6-2. Nole's been nursing a wrist injury all tournament long, but it didn't seem to hurt him until today. He walked onto the court with his right forearm heavily bandaged and a heavy look on his face.
"It's unfortunate that when you're playing at this level against Roger, big tournament, that you are not able to play your game because something else is taking away all your energy and effort," Djokovic was quoted as saying in USA Today. "This injury has been present for last 10 days, and I tried not to think or talk about it. I did everything I could, really. I was on the medications every day, I was doing different therapies, injections."
Djokovic said he's going to take some time away from tennis.
"I just rest now. I cannot play tennis for some time. How long, I don't know," Djokovic said. "I'm going to rest and see when it can heal 100 percent, then I will be back on the court." His next scheduled stop on the tour is in Madrid, which starts May 4. And the French Open is beckoning. It starts May 25.